The Great No-Soap Experiment

Is there a skin-care product any of us use more than soap? We rub the stuff on our bodies daily — whether it's in the form of hand soap, body wash, or facial cleanser. But, have you ever taken a second to consider what exactly is in your soap?
"Soaps have detergents or surfactants in them, to break down debris and dirt and wash them away," says dermatologist Elizabeth Tanzi, MD. Surfactants lower the surface tension between liquids and other substances — that's what makes soap allow water to penetrate more fully. The fact that soap foams helps water get under dirt and grease more easily.
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When people talk about their "issues with soap," they're mostly talking about ingredients that strip your skin of its natural oils and irritate it. Dr. Tanzi says that one such ingredient is sodium lauryl sulfate, because it can be "particularly irritating."
We wanted to test-drive what would happen if people were asked to scrub with alternatives to the typical suds. So, we hunted down four soaps that didn't contain SLS — or any "typical" soap ingredients — and asked four brave staff members to try 'em on their bods.
And, in case you're wondering, we didn't have to quarantine these poor souls into their own, stinky corner. Click through to read the results.
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Who: Hayden Manders, assistant entertainment editor

Soap alternative: Kiehl's Superbly Restorative Argan Dry Oil, because oil cleansing has become increasingly popular for your face. Why not try it on your bod?

What kind of soap do you use now?
“I use whatever’s going to get me the most bang for my buck at Duane Reade, which, at the moment, is Softsoap Ultra Rich Shea Butter & Almond Moisturizing Body Wash. It smells fresh.”

What was your biggest hesitation about this experiment?
"My skin is typically really dry, so forgoing the post-shower lotion step was probably my biggest hesitation."

Talk to me about your experience.
"I’m a directions reader — even if it’s the same product I’ve used forever — so, I read the directions on the Kiehl’s bottle twice. I stupidly thought 'dry oil' meant 'use a little more than usual,' and I squeezed what was probably two days' worth in my hand and wound up smelling like your cliché, granola art teacher the entire first day. But, boy, was my skin soft!

"I learned my lesson and repeated the same routine for the remainder of the week. The cedar-wood smell complemented the cologne I wear nicely. But, no major emotions flooded me other than the longing to linger in the shower a bit longer in the morning. But, why waste water when you’re not doing anything?”
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Did the experiment change any of your behaviors?
"The only thing I did differently was save myself a week's worth of body wash and lotion."

How did you feel when you went back to your regular soap?
"Well, as the good directions follower I am, I popped open my Softsoap and grabbed my loofah after a week apart. Even in the shower, I could tell how dry my skin was going to be once all was said and washed. The lotion I applied after did my skin some moisture justice, but not as well as the dry oil did. Let’s just say this old habit isn’t going to die hard."

Would you ever give up your soap for good?
“For this dry oil stuff? Totally. My skin hasn’t been this soft in a really long time.”

Kiehl's Superbly Restorative Argan Dry Oil, $34, available at Kiehl's.
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Who: Raquel Laneri, staff writer

Soap alternative: Baking soda, which has been touted as an amazing body cleanser. It's also the base of most DIY body washes.

What kind of soap do you use now?
"Honestly? I use whatever soap my husband uses. (I asked him — it's Lever2000 — good to know!) The gym I go to has Bliss lemon-and-sage body wash, which I think smells delightful."

What was your biggest hesitation?
"Baking soda is a powerful cleanser, and I have read about people using it as a face and body wash, so I wasn't overly concerned about cleanliness. I was worried about the abrasiveness, however — especially since I have rather sensitive skin — and the inconvenience aspect. Like, would I have to carry a little jar of baking soda when I go to the gym?"

Tell me about your experience.
"I bought some baking soda, put it in a little jar, and brought it into the shower with me, mixing it with water. I probably overdid the scrubbing — like part of me couldn't believe this was actually working. But, it felt good, particularly on my back (like a mini-microdermabrasion).

"On Monday, I went to the gym, and I signed up for hot yoga, so skipping showering in the locker room wasn't an option. I put a little jar of baking soda in a plastic baggie into my gym bag, and after my workout — though I'm sure NO ONE noticed or was paying the slightest attention to me — felt kind of embarrassed and ridiculous about bringing my own homemade 'soap' into the shower. It's not easy to live this way!"

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Did the experiment change any of your behaviors?
"Nope. Though if we hadn't been allowed to wear deodorant either, that would have been a different story."

How did you feel when you went back to regular soap?
"Happy that I don't have to lug a container of baking soda with me everywhere I go! Also, I'm not sure washing your body with baking soda every day is that good for your skin, though I might use it as an exfoliating scrub once in a while — with some essential oils."

Would you ever give up soap for good?
"I don't know if I would ever give up soap for good, but since I didn't even know what soap I normally used before this experiment, I am certainly open to trying other options. And, I am now curious about the soap we do have at home. Maybe, I'll read some labels, do some research, and make some informed decisions."

Arm & Hammer Baking Soda, $7.57, available at Walmart.
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Who: Megan Reynolds, staff writer

Soap alternative: Coconut oil, which has been used as a makeup remover and face cleanser.

What soap do you use now?
"Usually, I use whatever body wash is on sale. I’m not product-loyal at all, but the thing that is in my shower right now is something from Nivea."

What was your biggest hesitation?
"I was kind of weirded out by the fact that I’d be rubbing oil into my skin and not having it actually rinse off. I had a vision of myself exiting the shower, sans contact lenses, slipping as if on a banana peel, and knocking myself out. Once I realized that coconut oil sinks in quickly, those fears were assuaged. I also had slight concerns about clogging my drain, but after some research, realized that it was fine."

Tell me about your experience.
"My strategy for the week was to grab a big glob of it, rub it into my body before it melted, and then go over the whole thing with my loofah, in an attempt to make myself actually feel 'clean.' The bonus? I didn't have to moisturize after the shower at all, which saved time and got me to work a little earlier. I didn’t really rinse anything off, because there was nothing actually to be rinsed. The oil just absorbed into my skin. But, I have noticed that my skin got softer over the week. I’m pretty lazy about a lot of things, including putting on lotion after the shower, so at the minimum, this felt like a time-saver.

"I realized halfway through that this really isn’t that big a deal. I work in a temperature-controlled office, typing many things on a computer and not moving all that much. My skin is never really actually 'dirty,' in the sense that it would be if I were, say, farming."
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Did the experiment change any of your behaviors?
"Life as I generally live it carried on without issue. I did my usual weekend things — brunch, reading, work — and didn’t feel like I needed to, say, hide my stinky self from my friends. That’s because I didn’t feel unclean! I felt normal, if not more moisturized. "

How did you feel when you went back to your normal soap?
"Regular soap is indeed drying. I showered using the body wash I normally do, and noticed immediately that my skin felt tighter than it had for the past week. I will say that seeing the suds on the loofah felt good, though."

Would you ever give up your soap for good?
"I would gladly explore soap alternatives that aren’t full of sulfates and lathering agents, because they do actually dry out my skin. Coconut oil might not be the answer, but now I’m definitely interested in a more natural alternative. "

Living Foods Extra Virgin Coconut Oil, $12.08, available at PureFormulas.com
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Who: Stacey Gawronski, contributor network editor

Soap alternative: SheaMoisture African Black Soap. African Black soap has so many benefits, from improving problem skin to fading dark spots.

What kind of soap do you use now?
"I use Dove soap, usually the white body bar, but sometimes I switch it up with the Go Fresh Cucumber & Green Tea. I started using Dove in college. There was something about its purity that I really liked, and it's been in my shower ever since."

What was your biggest hesitation?
"As I've been using Dove for so many years, it was weird to switch it up. I was a little worried about not liking the scent, less so the feel, actually. But, other than that, I didn't have any real concerns."

Tell me about your experience.
"First shower when I used it came after my Saturday-morning run. During the run, I remember thinking, Don't forget to take the soap out of your bag. Of course, I did, so there I was, hopping dripping wet out of the running shower and racing across the kitchen to retrieve the bar.

"After my first day using it, my boyfriend walked into the bathroom and exclaimed, 'Smells like vanilla in here! What is that?' I explained what I was doing. I think he half-listened, because two days later he asked, 'When is that weird-looking black soap going to get out of our bathroom?' At this point, I had grown to like the soap and had no intention of ditching it post-experiment, but I just murmured, 'Tuesday.'"
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Did the experiment change any of your behaviors?
"No, not really. But, I think since I was using soap, albeit of a different variety than I'm used to, it didn't feel like I was doing anything totally off."

How did you feel when you went back to your regular soap?
"Well, I haven't gone back completely. I still have it in my shower, and I imagine I'll continue to use it on occasion."

Would you ever give up your soap for good?
"It'd be hard for me to give up my Dove bars! They're inexpensive and simple, and they get the job done. As someone who never wears perfume and gets a headache if I'm near someone who has seemingly bathed in it, I appreciate the subtle scent of my soap. Mixing in the occasional body wash is probably something I'll continue to do, but I'm not ready to abandon my college shower staple."

SheaMoisture African Black Soap, $4.99, available at Walgreens

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